A Brief History of Opal Superstitions
For such a beautiful gemstone Opals have not been entirely loved throughout history, in fact they have had quite a tough time at some points. There are countless tales of bad luck & stories of superstition that have given Opals a bad name.
From the beginning of history gemstones have always had certain beliefs attributed to them. For example Diamonds are said to improve the wearer’s courage & fortitude while also bringing victory & good fortune, Pearls will bring you health & long life while warding off evil & Rubies will give you peace of mind, courage & insight.
Opals on the other hand have had a mixed history. While other gemstones were prized for their positive magical qualities Opals were originally seen as an evil & bad luck gemstone, a brief list of the different beliefs is:
- White Opals are unlucky unless worn by someone born in October or with Diamonds.
- Very unlucky in an engagement ring.
- Opals will lose its shine if the owner dies.
- Renders the wearer invisible Improves eyesight.
- Will help blondes keep their hair color longer.
- Will turn pale if in the presence of poison.
- Black Opals are lucky.
- Useless as a charm to someone who is selfish.
- If used for good, it gives the power of prophecy.
Generally Opals have had an evil superstition attached to them. Witches and sorcerers supposedly used black opals to increase their own magical powers or to focus them like laser beams on people they wanted to harm. Medieval Europeans dreaded the opal because of its resemblance to “the Evil Eye,” and its superficial likeness to the optical organs of cats, toads, snakes, and other common creatures with hellish affiliations.
During the time that the Hungarian mines supplied Europe with Opals, including a stone for the crown of a Roman Emperor, superstitions circulated attributing evil powers and maladies to the colourful stone. In the eleventh century, Bishop Marbode of Rennes wrote of Opal, “…Yet ’tis the guardian of the thievish race; It gifts the bearer with acutest sight; But clouds all other eyes with thickest night.” This is thought to be based on the idea that opal granted its bearer with invisibility, therefore it was a talisman for thieves, spies and robbers.
This fear and loathing of the opal did not discourage the development of a counter folklore which cast the stone as a symbol of hope, innocence, and purity. European writers and poets of the Middle Ages also sang the opal’s praises, claiming it had curative effect on bad eyes, protected children from predatory animals, banished evil, and made entertainments, friendships, and romances much more intense and enjoyable. Fair-haired girls in Germany and Scandinavia were encouraged to wear opal pins in their hair, as they were thought to add magical lustre to their golden locks and protect them from freezing rain, wind, and other vicissitudes of the Nordic climate.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries opal fell out of favour, as it was associated with pestilence, famine and the fall of monarchies. Opal was also tied to the Black Plague, an affliction that struck in the middle of the 14th Century, ultimately eradicating more than a third of Europe’s population and much more in neighbouring territories.During the decimation of Europe by the Black Death, it was rumoured that an opal worn by a patient was aflame with colour right up to the point of death, and then lost its brilliance after the wearer died.
While Queen Victoria helped to reverse the bad press surrounding Opals as she became a lover of Opal and was known to wear Opals throughout her reign, a Spanish king would sully the opal’s already sordid reputation further still. In the late 19th Century, Alfonzo XII fell madly in love with a beautiful aristocrat named the Comtesse de Castiglione. The Comtesse reciprocated the King’s affection, but months before the pair were to wed the faithless Alfonzo married another woman, the Princess Mercedes. Vowing to get even, the Comtesse sent the couple a wedding present in the form of a magnificent opal set in a huge ring of the purest gold. The princess was immediately smitten by the gift and insisted that her husband slip it on her finger. He obliged, and two months later the princess mysteriously died.
After the funeral Alfonzo gave the ring to his grandmother, Queen Christina, who almost immediately thereafter also expired. After that the ring passed to Alfonzo’s sister, the Infanta Maria del Pilar. Maria died as well, apparently victim to the same weird illness that had taken the other two women. The ring was up for grabs yet again, and when Alfonzo’s sister-in-law expressed an interest, he let her have it with the usual result.
Deeply depressed by then, the King decided to end it all by slipping the ring on his own finger, just as Cleopatra had embraced the asp to terminate her own misery. In little over a month, the ring did to Alfonzo what the snake had done to the Egyptian Queen. The ring was finally attached to a gold chain and strung around the neck of a statue of the patron saint of Madrid, the Virgin of Alumdena. That put an end to the incredible chain of tragic circumstances, but was the gem really responsible for the calamities besetting this royal family? According to Kozminsky, it seems pretty unlikely.
“At this time it must be remembered that cholera was raging through Spain,” he writes in The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones. “Over 100,000 people died of it during the summer and autumn of 1885. It attacked all classes from the palace of the king to the hut of the peasant, some accounts giving the death estimate at 50 percent of the population. It would be as obviously ridiculous to hold the opal responsible for this scourge as it was to do so in the previously noted plague at Venice. All that may be said is that in this case the opal was not a talisman of good for King Alfonzo XII of Spain and to those who received it from his hand, and that in the philosophy of sympathetic attraction and repulsion man, stones, metals and all natural objects come under the same law.”
Opals Not All About Bad Luck
Opals were not considered bad luck by everyone however. The Romans believed that Opals were a combination of the beauty of all the precious stones, and it is well documented in Roman history that Caesars gave their wives Opal for good luck. They ranked Opal second only to emeralds, and in fact carried the gem around with them as a good luck charm or talisman, as it was believed that the gem, like the rainbow, brought its owner good fortune. To the Romans, it was considered to be a token of hope and purity. It was also referred to as the “Cupid Stone” because it suggested the clear complexion of the god of love. There are many reports of opal bringing people luck, including the many opal miners who have made their fortunes and have lived long and prosperous lives. Weather you believe that Opal brings you good luck or bad we can’t disagree with the fact that Opal is one of the most beautiful & mysterious precious stones in the world. The colours are truly magical!